Everyone has heard of sibling rivalry, but narcissistic sibling relationships are toxic. Even siblings with just a few narcissistic traits can make family dynamics complicated, exhausting or unhealthy for the rest of the family, including you.
Narcissistic Sibling Characteristics
People with narcissistic personality disorder are characterized by a need for praise, extreme arrogance, and inflated self-importance.1 Some are overt, displaying these traits for all to see, while others are covert narcissists, who keep these tendencies under wraps except to those closest to them.
Here are some common characteristics your narcissistic sibling may display:
- They need to be the center of attention: If you are tired, she is exhausted. If you bought a new car, he did too, only a much more expensive model.
- They always feel entitled: Even though you remember his kids’ birthdays, he has never acknowledged yours. She feels entitled to your time, money or support, even though she never reciprocates.
- They lack empathy and don’t care about your feelings: Your grief is causing her stress. She is jealous of your accomplishments. Telling him how you feel seems to just give him more ammo for your next fight.
- They only see you as a source of narcissistic supply: To a narcissist, others are a way to get praise, or narcissistic supply. They only care about themselves and your role is to be their audience cheering them on.
- They are the golden child and you are the scapegoat: In a dysfunctional family system, the scapegoat holds the blame for all of the family’s problems, while the golden child–in this case the narcissistic child–can do no wrong.
- When you take a break from them, you feel better: Your guilt leads you to reconcile without hearing an apology from your sibling and the abuse cycle begins anew.
- They are downright cruel to you and relish in your pain: This type of behavior is called narcissistic abuse, and can involve name-calling, gaslighting, DARVO, or physical abuse.
How a Narcissistic Sister or Brother Affects Your Mental Health
A narcissistic sibling can have profound and lasting impacts on your mental health, especially if you were raised with one. It can potentially cause you to be more conflict-averse, distrustful, and tolerant of abuse in other relationships. Research has shown that warmth between siblings is negatively impacted by high levels of narcissism, among other factors.3
Some common effects of living with a narcissistic sibling include:
Desire to Avoid Conflict/Criticism
Sometimes getting into a confrontation with your narcissistic sibling comes with a terrible aftermath. To a narcissist, even the slightest criticism is taken as a grave insult, a pattern of behavior known as narcissistic injury. After establishing this pattern in childhood, it can continue to impact your relationships into adulthood. You may shy away from confrontation at any cost, with bosses, colleagues, friends, neighbors.
Distrust in Others
Betrayal by a narcissistic sibling can lead to trust issues. It can be hard to know if someone is trustworthy or not when you have been jerked around by your love/hate relationship. From best friends to sworn enemies, to best friends again, it is a roller coaster of emotions.
Overly Tolerant of Abuse Within Relationships
Sometimes siblings will tolerate abuse in relationships that healthier people would not. Walking on eggshells around a narcissist can lead to seeing this behavior as normal. Putting up with put-downs, shaming or other forms of verbal abuse may seem like the inevitable cost of friendship or romantic relationships.
Lack of Stability in the Family
If you are the scapegoat, you can feel like a stranger in your own family of origin. Confiding in your parents may lead to backlash, as the golden child can typically do no wrong. When everyone else makes excuses for your sibling, speaking your truth can seem daunting.
Lack of Nurturing Relationships
Beyond nurturing relationships within your family, you may find yourself taking on a helper role in other relationships. Perhaps your friends use you as a sounding board, but don’t do the same for you. If you don’t have anyone you can be yourself around, this takes a toll.
5 Tips for How to Deal With Your Narcissistic Sibling
Dealing with a narcissistic sibling may feel like an impossible task, but there are ways to protect yourself. Setting and asserting healthy boundaries, knowing your limits, and taking care of yourself can all make the situation easier to deal with.
Here are five ways to deal with a narcissistic sibling:
1. Assert Your Boundaries
Boundaries are important for not only you, but the relationship with your sibling. Strong boundaries can preserve a relationship, while weak ones may lead to you cutting them off. Setting a boundary may look like this: When your sibling berates and humiliates you in front of others, walk away. This may be going to another room, leaving in your car for a bit, or going home.
2. Build Your Self-Confidence
After years of gaslighting and abuse, your self-confidence has taken a beating. It can be hard to see yourself as a good person when you have been told otherwise your whole life. Ask people who know you well to help you come up with a list of your positive traits. Start this list and add to it over time. You can do the same for them.
3. Know Your Limits & When to Walk Away
Sometimes taking a break is the healthiest thing you can do. Even if you have shared responsibilities (care for elderly parents, etc) you do not need to be all things to all people. Your mental health matters.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Engaging in self-care goes beyond bubble baths. Being kind to yourself is a skill you can work on and it pays dividends. Start by examining the way you talk to yourself. Is your inner voice kind and encouraging or harsh and unrelenting? The Mountain is You: Transforming Self-sabotage into Self-Mastery by Brianna West is a great place to start.
5. Speak With a Therapist
A therapist can help you with setting boundaries, building self-confidence and being kind to yourself when you need a break. Seeking therapy is a sign of strength and willingness to look at areas of your life that are in need of changes.
“Regarding ways to deal with having a narcissistic sibling, my best advice is to set boundaries in the relationship, such as by limiting the time one spends with the sibling or when they spend time with the sibling. It might also help if they realize and accept that their sibling will likely not meet their emotional needs and find others who can fill in those voids (friends, romantic partners, other family relationships). This is assuming the relationship is not abusive. If it is, the person should work towards ending their relationship if they are able to (and seek out counseling for support).” –Dr. Amy Brunell
When to Get Professional Help for Healing from Narcissistic Siblings
You may benefit from seeing a therapist if your relationship with your sibling is causing you pain, stress or anxiety. People start therapy for many reasons. Some need to respond to unexpected changes in their lives, while others seek self-exploration or personal growth. When coping skills are overwhelmed by guilt, doubt, anxiety or despair, therapy can help.
Therapy can provide supports, problem-solving skills and enhanced coping for issues such as relationship troubles, lack of confidence, or unresolved childhood issues. People seeking therapy are willing to take responsibility, work towards change, and create greater awareness in their lives.
Signs therapy may help include:
- Stress about your sibling is spilling into other areas of your life
- You suffer from low self esteem
- Your sibling is having a negative effect on your children, spouse, or others in your life and you need help setting boundaries
- You want to look at your childhood and the ways your sibling impacted your mental health then and now
How to Find a Therapist
It can be helpful to work with a therapist trained in narcissistic abuse and recovery. An online therapist directory can help. When looking for a therapist, be sure to ask about their experience with personality disordered siblings. A therapist with little or no training and experience in this can do damage, especially if they urge you to reconcile with a toxic or dangerous narcissist.
Dealing with a narcissistic sibling can be frustrating and have lasting effects for other siblings, but by employing coping strategies, you can find healing. Be kind to yourself as you process your emotions and take steps to improve your relationships.